NHRA fans were treated to blue skies and fast times on the opening day of qualifying at the 25th annual Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals at Firebird Int'l Raceway. A day of exciting Professional qualifying closed with a bang when Larry Dixon (pictured), who didn't qualify in the season-opening race in Pomona with the new Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel team, went from zero to hero with a class-leading blast of 3.807 seconds at 313.95 mph.
A second qualifying session in Funny Car was full of one-upmanship that culminated in Pomona champ Ron Capps taking the provisional No. 1 with an outstanding 4.023. Mike Edwards made a pair of flawless passes to lead the Pro Stock contingent in two equally quick seasons.
Dixon is sure to make his first race day start with the Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Racing dragster team after his 3.807-second pass put him in the top spot at the end of Friday qualifying. After a surprising DNQ in Pomona under difficult circumstances, Dixon and the Jason McCulloch-led team bounced back to make the quickest runs of both qualifying sessions.
"It's nice to qualify," said a smiling Dixon. "You look at the team and all the talent it has, but I never take qualifying for granted. With my personality, I don't get too up or too down. I'm thankful to have a great job driving for a great team, and I wasn't going to let one run determine our fate for the season."
"We made a nice run. The car rattled a little bit early. It cleaned up right about the time that I didn't think it was going to make it. From that point, I didn't have to steer it very much."
The Matco Tools dragster driven by Antron Brown continued its mean streak with a solid 3.830 at 313.80 mph to place Brown second heading into the final day of qualifying. Brown is trailed closely by defending world champ Tony Schumacher, whose Mike Green-tuned U.S. Army dragster is third with a 3.840 at a class-leading 315.27 mph. In the fourth spot, Spencer Massey and the U.S. Smokeless team kept pace with a 3.847 at 310.27 mph.
Brandon Bernstein and the Budweiser/Lucas Oil team are fifth with a 3.875, followed closely by Morgan Lucas Racing drivers Lucas and Shawn Langdon, respectively. Class rookie Del Cox Jr. hung on in the top 12 with a 3.936 at 306.46 in the RG Industries/Bexar Waste dragster. Pomona winner Doug Kalitta is outside of the top 12 with two qualifying sessions remaining.
Capps showed that his Winternationals win was just a sign of things to come. His Ed "the Ace" McCulloch-tuned Napa Dodge Charger scorched the pavement with the second-quickest 1,000-foot run in Funny Car history, a 4.026 at 305.63 mph. Capps, who has one win in four final-round appearances at this event, seeks to hold on to what can be the eighth No. 1 qualifying position in his 26-win career.
"I haven't been [in the press room] on a Friday in a long time," said Capps. "It's been awhile since we've had a car capable of taking the pole. It goes to show you what kind of confidence 'Ace' has in this car right now that he can take a shot at it. He usually likes to find a baseline and stick to it.
"I quote 'Ace' when I say that confidence breeds success. We left Pomona knowing we have a great car, and you always want to follow up a win with a good performance to show it. We're out here to win races this year. We didn't win any last year, and we're embarrassed by that. If we keep the attitude of going out to win as many races as we can for Napa, the points will fall into place."
No crew chief? No problem. In the absence of crew chief John Medlen, who is recovering in Indianapolis after having a stent put in his heart, Mike Neff assumed the role of driver/tuner on the Ford Drive One Mustang for the first time in his career and put forth a strong effort with a 4.050 at 309.06 mph, the sixth-fastest speed in the 1,000-foot era. Before becoming a driver at the end of the 2007 season, Neff tuned Gary Scelzi to the 2005 Funny Car championship.
Del Worsham and Robert Hight were each at the top of the list when they made respective runs of 4.072 and 4.077, and the ended the day at third and fourth. John Force sits fifth after his Castrol Edge Ford Mustang with a strong 4.089. Former Pro Mod standout Matt Hagan, who led the first session with a 4.106, dropped to eighth in the Tommy DeLago-tuned BrakeSafe Dodge Charger.
Tony Pedregon lit up his Quaker State Chevy Impala during the second session at the end of a 4.104. Pedregon's engulfed Funny Car came to a safe stop in the sand trap. Pedregon's brother and 2008 season titlist Cruz is qualified No. 12 with a 4.164 in the Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara.
Edwards showed the strength of his Penhall/YoungLife Pontiac GXP by posting the two quickest Pro Stock elapsed times of the opening day of qualifying. The Winternationals runner-up opened with a strong 6.613 at 208.71 mph and fine-tuned his entry even more in the second session to run a 6.605 at 208.52 mph. The next quickest run of the day is Greg Anderson's 6.619 at 209.49 mph (top speed). Edwards, who only has eight round-wins in his 12 appearances in Phoenix, is looking to change his fortune at this event.
"It's too bad we didn't make the kind of run that we made in the first qualifying session in the final round of Pomona," said Edwards, who was runner-up to Jason Line at the Kragen O'Reilly NHRA Winternationals. "I feel like we left something on the table there by having lane choice and not taking advantage of it. We made two very good runs today that are more representative of what this team is capable of."
"By no means do I think this run is going to stand up tomorrow," Edwards warned. "There are too many good teams out here. We still have to find that sweet spot in the tune-up tomorrow if we expect to be no. 1."
Behind Anderson is Jeg Coughlin, who occupies the third spot with a fine 6.624 from the opening session. Allen Johnson, who defeated Coughlin in the second round in Pomona, put his Mopar-backed Dodge Stratus fourth with a 6.630. Johnson's teammate, Johnny Gray, rounded out the top 12 with a 6.669 at 207.66 mph.
Points leader Line is fifth in the Summit Racing Pontiac with a 6.638 at 208.71 mph. Greg Stanfield used strong early numbers to slot his Attitude Apparel/Indicom GXP sixth with a 6.643. Ron Krisher, using one of Edwards' powerplants, appears to have put his early-season woes behind him with a good 6.649 at 208.20 mph in the Valvoline Chevy Cobalt. Drivers vying for spots during the final day of qualifying include defending event champion V. Gaines.